Meeting Mayim

May 30th, 2011

About a month ago, I went to a fundraising event for Jew In The City where I got to meet Mayim Bialik. Probably best known as “Blossom“, she now plays Amy Fowler on The Big Bang Theory.

The main reason I attended the event was to support Allison Josephs, the one-woman-show behind Jew In the City, and the amazing work she is doing for the Jewish world.  I was determined not to be a groupie. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to the event I had never watched Mayim on The Big Bang Theory. I have been privileged to spend most of my life meeting and speaking with prominent,  people for one reason or another (none of which have anything to do with me).  I don’t fawn, and have always prided myself on relating to the famous just like everyone else.  (*Margaret Thatcher was the exception to that.  I don’t consider her a real person; she is history and larger-than-life, right? )

But this scenario was different. I spent my entire childhood dreaming of a life on stage. I performed from age eight. I took singing lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons and spent summers at BU Theater Conservatory. When I was  a junior in high school and the hobby wasn’t going away,  I was told by all of the well-meaning adults in my life that I was  “too Jewish” to make it in “the business”. It wasn’t just my parents who discouraged me, telling me that Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand were the exceptions to the rule, but all of the  professionals in show business who I came into contact with as well….

… And then the movie Beaches came out. And Mayim Bialik was literally playing a young Bette Midler.  And her movie role led to her own TV show. So she became a hero to me, and a symbol that all of those adults were wrong. (Somehow I drew that conclusion a lot at 17.) I continued to pursue a career on the stage for many years after. I subsequently dropped that plan for my own reasons, almost all of which had to do with my religious growth and shift in priorities.

So here is the very same Mayim Bialik talking about her religious growth with me in the center of the second row, hanging on her words like a full-blown groupie.  It didn’t help that we are both into attachment parenting and healthy eating (“both into”  as in she has written a book on holistic parenting and I do what I can when I can.) Or that the first thing Mayim said to me when I walked in was:  “Oh my gosh, I almost wore that dress tonight!”.

Yes, she did say that, and this is the dress.

I tried not to gush, or to tell her all of this background which would have sounded ridiculous to her, but to instead maintain my customary non-groupie-like composure. Since I  fell out somewhere between polite and out-right gushing, I think I came across as a complete weirdo.  I also think she must be really used to it.

More than anything else, I really appreciated learning from her that evening. Much more than an actress she is a true thinker. A PhD in Neurology, she is intellectual and deliberate in her approach to just about everything, including her faith.  One of the things she said that struck me the most is that she knew she was on a ladder of personal growth. But she needed to understand the shape and structure of the ladder, i.e. Jewish law, philosophy and theology, before being able to reach her hand off of it and safely out to Hashem. I have used the analogy of a ladder often in describing my own personal Jewish reality  and  I found her description so apt.

I left the evening sure that if we just had some time together Mayim and I would just be great friends. This woman who had the career that I tried not to covet as a teenager is now in the arduous process of melding her love of acting with her growing love of Judaism.  I feel for her, relating so strongly to the many choices and changes that I made along the way. Okay, so I didn’t exactly have to contend with being on a PRIME TIME SITCOM, but I made my own sacrifices.

I think it is to Mayim Bialik’s credit that she left me with that impression that we would be buddies if only…  as well as no doubt 90% of the other people in that room, and 90% of the women all over the country who watch her and have met her.

One other comment she made that stayed with me was her retelling of a fundamental question Allison asked her when they began learning together many years ago as chevrutot,  or study partners: “Why do you think G-d gave you this amazing success and what do you think he wants you to do with it?”   She didn’ t have any answers then, but it was a life-changing reference point that she said Allison has stuck with and revisits with her.   She is taking a lot of composed, rational middle-aged women like myself and turning us into groupies, and getting an increasing amount of attention about her Jewish growth and her holistic parenting choices.

So she  is doing much with her notoriety, and I think she is at least part of the way towards figuring out an answer.


Tu B’Av Meme

July 27th, 2010

I have been on hiatus for too long, especially since my last post was the Jewish blog carnival. I apologize. My eldest daughter is leaving for Camp Sternberg in the morning, (with me driving the three hours,)and it has had me quite hyperfocused for a while.

Amy Meltzer has tagged me in a fun meme for Tu B’av on her wonderful Homeshuling blog.

She gives a great explanation of the Jewish “love holiday” Tu B’av: “…a traditional festival dating back to the time of the mishnah,  when young women dressed in white would sing and dance in the vineyards, while the single men would look on, hoping to find their basherte.”

Amy asks what is our favorite Jewish love song. The variety of songs that fall into such a broad category must be huge.

For me, I think it has to be “Dodi Li” (My beloved is mine), to the tune taught to me, and often performed by Cantor Debbie Katchko Gray. My oldest, deepest and most genuine connection to G-d is through music. This was fostered and developed by “Cantor Debbie” for many years, for which I am very, very grateful.  Now I sing this song with my husband.

This is a nice version of the tune I like that I could find on line:

I hope Cantor Debbie will read this and send me a link to her singing it.  Turns out, Ima on (and off) the Bima picked this one as well. What can I say? Great minds….?

… Now that no one is most likely reading this anymore, I found a file of me singing this song for a friend so she could learn it. Dodi Li.

What about you? I tag Immahlady and In The Pink, but I would love to hear from the rest of you too!

What’s your favorite Jewish love song?


April 21st, 2010

My role as a stepmother isn’t a subject that I have blogged about much.  My stepson is 16,  and I remember being pretty embarrassed by just about everything my parents said and did when I was sixteen. I especially hated it when they talked about me to their friends.

The truth is that to be a non-custodial stepparent who is religious is lonely. There are almost no forums, communities, books or resources. Much of what applies in the non-Jewish world doesn’t translate, and most of the books I have seen address being a custodial stepparent. When I wanted some help navigating the road I am on, I looked in every place on line and in the library that I could think of.  Nothing.

It is as if the publishers out there make the same mistake as a lot of other people that I don’t have to parent much, or work hard, or focus energy on my stepson because he doesn’t live with me.

Of course the opposite is true! There are many times where more patience, energy, work, skill, communication…. in short parenting, is required because he doesn’t live with me.  And of course I don’t love him less than my other children. I do love him differently, but I love each of them differently. Each relationship is unique.

The difference isn’t in my unconditional love – it is that my unconditional love for him is one way. His loving me conditionally is a result of lots of different factors. I could say that it is “normal” for a stepchild, but I don’t think one can generalize in this case. There are stepchildren who freely adore their stepparent. Hold on to them as a buouy of sanity in their lives.  There are stepchildren who simply don’t love their stepparents at all. And everything in between. But the love, conditional as it may be, is just that, LOVE. And sometimes I am amazed that he lets himself love me, given loyalty issues and other factors in his life.

At another time I would like to describe all of the ways that I think the one-way unconditional love makes me a better parent for my whole family. It has made me a better person. Loving, and giving with no illusions of control is freeing. It is a challenge, but it is freeing, and strength-building.

I cannot sum up the complex relationship filled with challenges and love that I have with my stepson in one blog post. In fact, it is a book’s worth of stuff that I will try to write someday. (Maybe when he is old enough to not be mortified by such a thing.)

Most of the parenting issues we have now are 99% about being sixteen and 1% about being a step-relationship. Which is great! But I never know when it is one or the other, and I am often insecure and don’t have enough confidence in that ratio. I keep learning the lesson over and over again.

Tonight there was pushing away, and pushing away, and pushing away: ” I don’t want to commit to following up with that. I can’t come that day. I don’t want to talk about it. Nothing new is in my life, I mean it. I don’t know when I will have them. Yeah yeah, okay, etc.”

…. and then “Yeah, I would prefer it if you packed me a lunch for school tomorrow, if it is okay.”

And in one instant, I feel needed, I feel loved.    :  )

Last week our local library invited Yosi, a childrens’ performer, to give a Chanukah concert. We don’t live in a large Jewish community, and the greater community does very little to acknowledge Jewish holidays. I was thrilled.

But Yosi got sick, and the event was cancelled. I called the library and offered to “fill in” and run a Chanukah Musical Party (as opposed to a concert) this week instead. After all, I reasoned, it is actually Chanukah this week. The children will  have something instead of nothing, however lame it may be. It will be great marketing for my Jewish Mommy and Me program. And who knows? Maybe one more Jewish family will leave wanting to know more about their Judaism. …

I didn’t think it through, and I didn’t consider at the time how much I was setting myself up to flop, fail; embarrass me and my family.

The local outreach Rabbi was so pleased that I “think on my feet”, and jumped into the void quickly enough for it to work out. The library is thrilled! My kids are excited (the almost 10 year old is embarrassed in anticipation, I think).

I learned the word impetuous at a very early age from my father – about me. I have made very quick decisions much larger than whether or not to perform without an instrument or musicians – or a clue – in a small local library before.

After 18 months of college searching, 8 applications, etc, I decided to blow it all off, “defer” and go to Israel for the year. It was one of the best, and most pivotal decisions of my life.

I dated my husband for 8 months. Some considered that very short; for me it was far longer than I felt was necessary.

I suppose that some enjoy the comfort of  safety. This isn’t a feeling I can relate to very much. It isn’t learned, it is an innate personality trait that I enjoy taking risks, knowing that I will sometimes fail.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t come with an innate ability to deal with said failure.

The dictionary uses the term “rash” to somehow differentiate between impetuous and hasty. So are my decisions rash? Or just “thinking on my feet”?

Perhaps the only way to know is with that wonderful clarifier hindsight.

My first singing teacher taught me the trite phrase “life isn’t a dress rehearsal”. It resonated with me. I think more often than not I have been happy with the hasty decisions I have made.

I hope today’s performance is one of them. I have already expended a lot of energy with thoughts of “what was I thinking”.